For once we can’t post a current image here. For the 1916 image on the left we would have to be in the tower of the Vancouver Block, looking at the unintended green roof of the Sears portion of Pacific Centre Mall. For the one on the right we think we would have to be up in a room of the third Hotel Vancouver – the one that’s still standing. While there are hundreds of images on the internet taken from the hotel, curiously none seem to be of Sears. Similarly we can only get glimpses of the power house in the past – and only thanks to the fabulous high resolution images just made available on the City of Vancouver Archives website.
What we’re identifying here is the building on the far left, and behind the York Hotel on the right. It’s the power house that was erected in 1912 at a reported cost of $215,000. Almost certainly it’s the building that was described as a factory/warehouse in the $120,000 permit issued to architect W S Painter in 1912. There was a laundry, with a huge chimney, on the site from the 1890s – it’s frequently discretely removed from photographs. It was rebuilt as the hotel was enlarged and altered. A 1913 edition of the Contract Record described the building; “The power house, which supplies both heat and light to practically the whole block, was then erected. The upper portion of the power house is used for laundries, and employees’ quarters. The lower part, containing the boilers and engine room, goes down nearly three storeys underground. There are three immense boilers, capable of using either coal fuel or oil fuel. Oil fuel is being used at the present time. The auxiliary engine room extends from the power house to the motors, hydraulic pumping and refrigerating machinery. Tunnels are run from the engine room and power house containing the pipes for heating and pumping purposes. Opening off from the auxiliary engine room is a large incinerator for the purpose of burning all rubbish. The engine room of the power house is located just below street level and is fitted out with the latest recording instruments, showing the consumption of fuel oil, pressure of steam, thermometers, etc., all working automatically. The power house is finished throughout, both inside and out, with cement.”
As well as supplying power to the hotel, the Vancouver Fire Service used it as a reliable source of power for the Fire Alarm System that was located in a nearby Firehall. “The Fire Alarm Office (FAO), located on the top floor of No. 2 Hall, on Seymour Street, received more than 80 percent of its alarms via telephone through the emergency number, Seymour 89. The system had 318 boxes on thirty-seven box circuits and all alarms came through the fire alarm system and were relayed by the central station operator to the firehall due to respond. The four operators on duty operated two large switchboards, one of which was always recharging. When the operators were alerted by the electric master clock that the board in operation had to begin its recharge cycle, then the changeover to the charged board took place. Power to recharge the batteries on the DC system was supplied by the power plant at the nearby Hotel Vancouver, and should that fail, there was a gas engine-powered generator in reserve.”
Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives: View from Vancouver Block 1916 CVA PAN (extract) York Hotel 1931 CVA 99-3994, West End and Hotel Vancouver 1929 CVA Van Sc N63 (extract)